When writers dream of someday producing work that will change the world, they are not necessarily thinking about adding millions of dollars to a company’s market cap. But my old boss, Walter Isaacson, pulled off just that with his upcoming biography of Steve Jobs, as Apple’s stock rose
$3 a share 3% on a quote that Jobs was on the verge of producing an Apple television set before his death. In Isaacson’s words:
He very much wanted to do for television sets what he had done for computers, music players, and phones: make them simple and elegant. … ‘I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use,’ he told me. ‘It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.’ No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. ‘It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.’
Now, to be fair: Unlike computers, TVs were simple and elegant to begin with. Once. Not unlike an iPad, they had a simple interface that was mostly screen. You turned it on, and TV came out. In the old days you may have had to get up to change a channel or adjust some rabbit ears, but the whole process was pretty intuitive and analog. Even now, the TV part of a TV is pretty straightforward.
No, what’s difficult, and complicated, and maddening, is everything else that attaches to a TV: your box for DVDs, and your box for cable, and possible a separate box for a DVR, and the menus and submenus within all of these for selecting inputs and adjusting settings and ordering shows on demand (if, in fact, that does not require your logging on to your computer).
The challenge, then, would be to take all this wonderful, infuriating stuff and make it work in one simple, elegant unit without cables and separate boxes and service calls from head-scratching cable techs—and, while you’re at it, Apple, giving it the easy interface of an iSomething.
A good DVR box, like TiVo’s, goes a certain amount of the way toward merging some features: I can use one box, for instance, to record programs, stream Netflix movies, network home media or watch YouTube videos. But it doesn’t do all those things equally well, the search interface can be a slog and there is always the looming nightmare of my needing my cable provider to do something with the CableCard, in which case all bets are off.
What I want ideally, then, is a simple, slab pane of glass, like my iPad but hanging on my wall, that combines all these functions in an easy interface and makes watching video from the Internet, or my personal collection, as easy as (and preferably indistinguishable from) watching TV from cable. (Also, there should be a touchscreen—I want as close to the Minority Report experience as I can get—and the game apps should be insane.)
I don’t know if an iTV—if it exists—will do this, but Steve Jobs would want us to dream big, right? Do you want a TV from Apple? And if so, what do you want on yours?